I’m a mother to my 17-year-old daughter. She lost her sight 3 ½ years ago to a brain tumor. I have watched her work hard to gain the physical skills necessary to function independently in a sighted world. I have watched her learn and practice the reading and technological skills necessary to participate in school and future professions. The hardest thing to watch is her social struggles. She can do her part, but it requires another willing participant to have a conversion, let alone a relationship. I saw BlindNewWorld and I wanted to show support for this idea of inclusion and interaction.
Inclusion… this is an inspiring movement! Sighted people often feel isolated and lonely and want to feel included. We all understand this. Visually impaired people feel exponentially more isolated because they can’t utilize the visual communication that is readily available to sighted people.
My daughter can sit in a room full of friends and feel lonely because she doesn’t know they are there. She can’t see them.
Unless someone approaches her, greets her by name, and tells her their own name, she doesn’t get to interact with her friends. Sometimes people will talk to her, but she doesn’t realize they are speaking to her because the visual communication isn’t happening.
I’m convinced that most people want to interact with a visually impaired person but they don’t know how to do it or don’t realize that the “normal” rules don’t work. So here is a quick tutorial (tips given to me by my daughter):
- Greet the person by name so they know you are talking to them. If you don’t know their name, a light touch on their shoulder, arm or hand as you say hi and introduce yourself, works with a stranger.
- You don’t have to talk louder or slower or simpler to be understood by a blind person. True, lots of background noise can be hard, but visual impairment does not automatically mean mental impairment.
- It’s okay to offer to help, but don’t take charge. Pushing a visually impaired person ahead of you… enough said???? Ask if you can help, then ask how.
- “See” words are okay. “Did you see that…?” “Have you read that book…?”
As I proofread this post, I realize that our effort to be more inclusive should apply to everyone, not just to visually impaired people.
We all want and need to be included. And we all have our own impairments to deal with. Perhaps my daughter’s first rule for greeting a visually impaired person is more universal than she realizes.
Approach, greet by name, and introduce yourself. Who knows what beautiful things might begin with a simple, brave introduction…